Here Intrada brings us a double-feature premiere of two lesser-known scores from the middle period (1956) 20th Century-Fox CinemaScope era. HILDA CRANE is melodrama about a young divorced woman whose return to her college hometown sets local tongues wagging. THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER is about an even more liberated heroine who is kicked out of San Francisco on the eve of World War II and, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, makes her fortune in a Honolulu bordello (toned down to a “dance hall” for the film version of the original novel).
Both scores (like many of the era) might be described as populuxe, a term recently coined for the new brand of lush post-war style designed for the newly affluent, eagerly consumerist America of the1950s. David Raksin is probably best known for his 1940s work at Fox, including his celebrated LAURA.
After a curiously perky (for a melodrama) Main Title his score for HILDA CRANE is a kind of subtle rhapsody for strings and soloists (including reeds, violin/cello, and a silky alto sax). The style is hauntingly melodic, but in an elusive way, and there are no “big” (or obvious) tunes, but lots of beautifully crafted lines and modulations. Many cues are concentrated and you wish some had more time to develop, but all in all CRANE is a score that grows more appealing with each hearing. It’s also a prime example of that seamless fusion of concert and pop modes that only Hollywood and its composers could bring off so effortlessly.
I recently saw a pristine CinemaScope print of the rarely screened REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood where I enjoyed Hugo Friedhofer’s score in its original theatrical stereo (and a personal appearance by star Jane Russell herself). Friedhofer’s pop-oriented but varied STOVER is a fine contrast to Raksin’s more refined CRANE. It opens with a bluesy Main Title, the memorable melody of which is developed throughout the score. There’s also a lilting, waltz-like love theme that is sometimes linked to a brief yearning motif in strings for when things get serious (“The Voyage,” “Deck Games,” the languidly seductive “On the Beach”).
In keeping with the period and setting much of the score emphasizes an authentic ‘40s big band/jazz sound, and several dance hall numbers are included. “If You Wanna See Mamie Tonight” (byHollywood hit makers Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) is a slyly humorous tune performed as asemi-camp tango by a male chorus. (“Fellows who try to resist ought to hire a psy-chi-a-trist.”) It’s also heard in dynamic swing arrangement with an authentically period tenor sax solo (track 25). “Keep Your Eyes on the Hands” (by Mary Tobin and Tony Todaro) is performed (in mono) by Jane Russell, atalented and under-rated vocalist who also recorded both numbers on a Capitol single at the time of thefilm’s release. Another rather camp moment is a tiki lounge version of the old Fox number, “Sing Me A Song of the Islands”. Add a few intense war cues suggestive of Friedhofer’s YOUNG LIONS (“Escrow andBoot Montage” “Pin Up’) and, man, this score has everything!
However, Friedhofer’s casually sexy orchestral cues are the main attraction, very coolly performed by the luminous Fox strings backing up an assortment of slick jazz soloists, just as Raksin’s HILDA CRANE soloists weave in and out of a more posh carpet of velvety strings and harp. Both scoresrepresent that unique populuxe sound that nobody did better than Hollywood in the 1950s, and nobody in Hollywood did better than Fox (and MGM). Both scores are unusual and welcome re-issues, but to me any new Friedhofer release is always special. I personally have been anticipating a stereo restoration of his lush score for Fox’s BOY ON A DOLPHIN for years.